Got milk? Have I got a story idea for you!

milk2Where do stories come from? How do you know what to write?

From the time I started writing stories as a teen, I’ve always thought of the story itself as a milk carton. When I start writing for the day, the carton is brimming with characters and scenes. As my ideas leap onto the page, the carton slowly empties. Instinctively, when it feels like there is nothing left in the carton, usually around 4 to 5 pages in, I’m done writing. Anything more than this feels like I’m pulling and pulling on a fishing line, but not knowing the hook is stuck to the bottom of the boat!

But let’s back up for a second. Somehow story ideas have to fill this carton before writing.  It’s different for many writers, but below are a few strategies that work for me—and may help you!

Read, read, read…and people watch!

Most of the time, my ideas evolve from reading news stories or shopping!  Something interests me enough to ask the “What if…” question. From there, I add on questions. What if a corporate executive embezzled money from her own family? What if her husband faked his death ten years earlier?  What if she stole that purse and blamed her daughter?

As each possibility is added, the story builds. I also use Shirley Jump’s Rule of Six technique to explore the WHY behind the characters motivations/goals to add more emotion and conflict. Check out Shirley’s classes at Margie Lawson’s Writing Academy.

Your dreams are stories … use them!

I get many ideas from dreams!  Sounds like Twilight Zone material, right?

For example, about a month ago, a bad dream startled me awake about 3 a.m. It was about a camp in Pennsylvania, the kind of dream that leaves you sweating and unable to leave the bed to get a glass of water. Somehow, I summoned the courage and faced the darkness. When I finally fell back to sleep, the dream continued to a woman being drowned in the lake. And the bad guy was still after me!

How could that be?

In the morning, I was in the twilight area of waking when the dream finally, finally ended. And boom, just like that, something rocketed into my brain. My eyes flew open. It was as if all that night, the story wouldn’t let me go until I knew the ending. It wasn’t about the camp, or the bad guy chasing me, or even the drowning in the lake that was important.

It was about how the dream ended.

The ending would be my next novel.

I couldn’t talk, eat breakfast, or even have coffee (GASP!) until all this was put down in bare bones summary. This story, still untitled, became the novel I’m writing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

Ideas can come from anywhere! So, how do you get yours?